The Torah in Parashat Masei (33:38), amidst its listing of Benei Yisrael’s journeys through the wilderness, makes mention of the event that transpired at Hor Ha’hor – the passing of Aharon. As we read earlier, in Parashat Chukat (20:22-29), God instructed Moshe to bring Aharon up to the mountain, together with Aharon’s son and successor, Elazar, and to take Aharon’s priestly garments and place them on Elazar, formally appointing Elazar kohen gadol in his father’s place.
The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 19:19) observes that the instruction given to Moshe on this occasion – “Kach et Aharon” (“Take Aharon”) – is reminiscent of a command given to Moshe much earlier. In Sefer Vayikra (8:2), we read that when the time came for Aharon and his sons to be consecrated as kohanim, God told Moshe, “Kach et Aharon.” The Midrash comments, “In the same words with which he [Moshe] drew him to the priesthood…he told him to ascend the mountain [where he would die].”
What might be the significance of this parallel?
Rashi, commenting to the aforementioned verse in Sefer Vayikra, cites Torat Kohanim as explaining the command “Kach et Aharon” to mean “take him with words, and draw him.” It appears that it took a degree of persuasion to convince Aharon to accept the role of kohen gadol. The likely explanation can be found in Rashi’s comment later in Sefer Vayikra (9:7), where he writes (citing from Torat Kohanim) that when Aharon was to serve as kohen gadol for the first time, he was ashamed and afraid. Other Midrashic sources indicate that Aharon was hesitant because of the memory of the sin of the golden calf, in which he played a major role. Aharon saw himself wholly unworthy of serving as kohen, and so he was reluctant to assume this distinguished position, such Moshe had to persuade him.
In noting the parallel between the two commands of “Kach et Aharon,” the Midrash compares two very different challenges: breaking perceived barriers to become somebody whom we felt we could not become, and accepting defeat, recognizing that we cannot become somebody whom we thought we could and were destined to become. There were two occasions when Aharon was reluctant – at the moment of his greatest achievement and glory, when he became then nation’s high priest, and at the moment of his greatest defeat, when he was to die before reaching the Land of Israel. By comparing these two occasions, the Midrash perhaps teaches us that rising to challenges which seem beyond our reach is just as difficult as accepting that challenges we thought were within our reach aren’t. The emotional effort needed to extend beyond our perceived limits resembles that which is needed to surrender, to forego on dreams and aspirations that we now recognize as being impossible.
We all have a certain image of our potential, of who we can be and what we can do, but at various times in life, this image is proven incorrect. On some occasions we recognize that we are capable of far more than we ever imagined, and on other occasions we recognize that we are capable of less. We need to have the courage to both dream and to forego on our dreams, to boldly strive for ambitious goals and to accept defeat when our goals prove to be unattainable.